The night angel trilogy, p.42
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.42

           Brent Weeks
 

  Kylar dropped under a slash and stabbed up into a highlander’s groin with his wakizashi. On his back, he knocked the man backward with a kick, and used the force of the kick to spring to his feet.

  Six men were dead or down. Four remained. The first was impetuous. He charged with a yell, something about Kylar killing his brother. A parry and riposte, and brother joined brother. The last three moved forward together.

  A quick cut deprived one of sword and sword hand, and the next crossed swords with Kylar five times before he didn’t dodge back far enough and fell eyeless from the slash across his face. Kylar jumped over the sweeping halberd and turned to face the officer. He reversed his grip on his sword and stabbed behind him, impaling the one-armed soldier.

  The officer dropped the halberd and drew a rapier. Kylar smiled at the extremes of the man’s weapon choices and then looked over the officer’s shoulder. The man started to turn, frowned, and didn’t look back.

  A pretty noblewoman smashed the back of his head in with a planter. Flowers and soil flew everywhere, but the planter itself didn’t so much as crack.

  “Thank you for saving us,” she panted, “but damn you for looking at me. You could have gotten me killed.” She was one of the women whose hair and makeup hadn’t been the least disturbed by whatever violence had brought her here. She looked completely unruffled by having just crushed a man’s skull. She merely brushed dirt from her dress and checked to see if she’d dragged it through any blood. Kylar was surprised that she hadn’t spilled out of her low-cut dress when she’d run. He recognized her.

  “He didn’t look back, did he?” Kylar asked Terah Graesin, glad for the black silk kerchief over his face. He’d worn the mask out of habit, but if he hadn’t, some of these nobles would have recognized him.

  “Well, I never—”

  There was a knock on the door, and she and everyone else froze. Three knocks, two knocks, three, two. A voice called out, “New orders, Cap! His Majesty says to kill ’em all. We need your soldiers to help quell resisters in the courtyard.”

  “You need to leave immediately,” Kylar said loudly enough that all the nobles could hear him. “There’s at least two hundred more highlanders coming over West Kingsbridge. They’re probably the ones fighting in the courtyard right now. If you want to live, collect whatever weapons you can and free the soldiers who are trapped downstairs. Others are already heading there. With them, you can make it out of the castle. You can start a resistance. You’ve already lost the castle; you’ve lost the city. If you don’t move fast, you’ll lose your lives.”

  The news hit the nobles crowding around Kylar like cold water. Some of them shrank even more, but a few of them seemed to find their backbones as he spoke.

  “We’ll fight, sir,” Terah Graesin said. “But some of us have been poisoned—”

  “I know those poisons. If you’ve lived this long, you’ve taken a small enough dose that you’ll recover within a half hour. Where’s Logan Gyre?”

  “Excuse me, I’m Terah Graesin, now Queen Graesin. If you—”

  Kylar’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s. Logan. Gyre?”

  “Dead. He’s dead. The king’s dead. The queen’s dead. The princesses are dead, all of them.”

  The world rocked. Kylar felt as if he’d been clubbed in the stomach. “Are you sure? Did you see it?”

  “We were with the king in the Great Hall when he died, and I found the queen and her younger daughters in their chambers before I got caught. They were… it was awful.” She shook her head. “I didn’t see Logan and Jenine, but they must have been the first to die. After the king announced their marriage, they’d not left the Great Hall ten minutes before the coup started. The lord general took men to try to save them, but he was too late. These men were just bragging about how they slaughtered the royal guards.”

  “Where?”

  “I don’t know, but it’s too—”

  “Does anyone know where Logan went?” Kylar shouted.

  He saw from the looks on their faces that some of them knew, but they weren’t going to tell him because they were afraid he would leave them. The cowards. He heard a moan further back in the garden and he pushed through the standing nobles to see a pasty pale man sweating on his back. His mouth was crusted with froth and there was a puddle of vomit near his head. He looked so bad that Kylar almost didn’t recognize him. It was Count Drake.

  Kylar knelt by the count and grabbed leaves from his herb pouch and began stuffing them in the count’s mouth.

  “You have an antidote?” one of the sick but standing nobles asked. “Give it to me.”

  “Give it to me!” another demanded. They began pushing forward. Kylar whipped Retribution out and put the point on a noble’s throat.

  “If any of you touch me or him, I’ll kill you. I swear.”

  “He’s only a count!” a fat, quivering noblewoman said. “He’s poor! I’ll give you anything!”

  The hard, vengeful part of Kylar wanted to withhold the antidote just to repay their meanness, their pettiness. Instead, he grabbed the bag of antidote and tossed it to Terah Graesin. “Give it to those who need it most. It won’t save anyone who’s already unconscious, and anyone still standing doesn’t need it.”

  Her mouth opened at being so frankly commanded, but she obeyed.

  Time was slipping through Kylar’s fingers. He was here. He was in the castle, but he had no idea where in the castle he needed to be. He looked down at the count, wondering if he was too late to save him.

  The count stirred. His eyes opened, slowly focused. He was going to make it. “North tower,” he said.

  “That’s where Logan went?”

  The count nodded and then lay back, exhausted.

  “It’s too late for them,” Terah Graesin said. “Fight with us. I’ll give you lands, titles, a pardon—”

  But heedless of the nobles’ gasps, Kylar wrapped himself in shadows and ran.

  Roth’s men pounded up the stairs and kicked open the door to the bedchamber. Roth and Neph Dada followed as the eleven men pressed into the room amid grunts and cries. Even though the double doors were wide enough for three abreast, with four ranks of men in front of him, Roth couldn’t see what was happening, except to know that it wasn’t good. There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh, the sound of a sword cutting through mail, the sound of a skull bursting like a melon.

  Beside him, Neph Dada had extended his vir-marked arms. He muttered and a quarter of the vir wriggled. An eerily silent concussion blew men in every direction. Even Roth’s men were blasted off their feet.

  The three directly in front of him hurtled backward, but as Roth braced for the impact, they smacked against an invisible barrier Neph had erected to protect him.

  Neph spoke again and the room filled with light. Roth stepped inside with Neph as everyone recovered.

  Logan tried to jump to his feet, too, but his limbs were anchored to the floor as if by a great weight. He was naked and furious. Roth sheathed his sword as eight of his men collected their scattered weapons. Six men lay on the floor, all bleeding from deep wounds. Three of them were dead, three would be soon. Apparently Logan Gyre was no slouch with a sword.

  On the bed, wearing a hiked-up translucent nightgown, lay the princess. She was thrashing, terrified, but she couldn’t cover herself. Neph had immobilized her, too.

  Roth sat down on the bed next to the girl and let his eyes roam over her nubile body. He licked a finger, put it at the base of her neck, and traced it down her body.

  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” he said.

  Jenine Gunder’s eyes flashed. She was blushing from his casual perusal, but she was furious, too.

  Roth put a finger to her lips and shushed her before she could say anything. “I just came to congratulate you on your recent nuptials, my dove,” he said. “How is everything? Are you satisfied with the wealth of your husband’s endowments?” he asked.

  He looked over at the naked Logan and scowled. “W
ell, I suppose you are. And my dear Duke Gyre—stand him up,” Roth ordered. “Or should I say Prince Gyre? Don’t lose heart. I’ve seen her mother naked, and in time she’ll—”

  Logan lunged forward, but his bonds held. One of the men hit him across the face.

  Roth continued as if there had been no interruption. He clucked his tongue. “In time. There’s the rub. In time, the princess might grow into these rather admirable breasts and hips.” He smiled at her and pinched a cheek. Roth stood, and Neph’s magic lifted Jenine from the bed to stand, trembling, next to her husband.

  “But you don’t have time. I hope you’ve enjoyed your marriage. And Logan, friend, I hope you’ve not been wasting your time with foreplay—because your marriage is over.”

  The moment drew out. There was nothing Roth loved so much as watching bewilderment turn to dread turn to despair.

  “Who are you?” Logan asked, his eyes betraying no fear.

  “I’m Roth. I’m the man who ordered your brother’s death, Jenine.” Ignoring Logan, Roth watched the words break over the girl like a wave. But he didn’t stop, didn’t let her voice a denial.

  “I’m Roth, the Shinga of the Sa’kagé. I’m the man who ordered your father’s death, Jenine. Not ten minutes ago, I watched his head roll off the high table.

  “I’m Prince Roth Ursuul of Khalidor. I’m the man who ordered your sisters’ and your mother’s deaths, Jenine. If you listen, you might hear their cries.” He put a finger to his ear and an attentive look on his face, mocking.

  “You two are all that’s left between me and Cenaria’s crown, Jenine. And I’m going to take that crown. I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you. Do you want to choose which of you dies first?”

  With each revelation, he watched her eyes, fed hungrily on her dying hope, gorged himself on her ripening despair. Roth drew a knife and turned her so she faced Logan.

  Logan cried out wordlessly, but Neph had gagged him. He bucked and strained against the bonds, his muscles taut, swelling huge, but escaping Neph’s magic was impossible. He could sooner tear stars from the heavens.

  “My lord,” a soldier called from the hall. “One of the barges has been destroyed. The meisters need you to help quell the resistance.”

  Watching the hope bloom in the young girl’s eyes gave Roth a shiver of excitement. “Resistance,” he said. “Maybe they’ll save you! But wait, your hero is already here. Logan, are you just going to stand there? Aren’t you going to save her?”

  The muscles in Logan’s arms and legs bulged and the magical bonds shifted and thinned until Neph spoke again and they redoubled. The prince couldn’t move.

  “I guess not,” Roth said, turning back to Jenine. “But you’re the princess! Surely the royal guards will come. Why, I bet even now the lord general is leading men here to rescue you!” He brushed his hair back over a mangled ear. “But I killed Agon and all the royal guards. There are no more heroes. No one can save you, Jenine.”

  Roth stepped behind Jenine and trailed his free hand up her slender stomach. He ripped her nightgown open, tore it off, and cupped a breast in his hand. As a tear rolled from her eye, he bent and kissed her neck like a lover. His eyes locked on Logan’s, mocking.

  Then, where he’d kissed her, he cut her throat.

  Roth gave her a shove, and Jenine stumbled into Logan’s arms, the right side of her neck a fountain of blood. Neph loosed Logan’s bonds enough that he could hold the girl, but not enough to reach up to try to stop the bleeding.

  Logan’s eyes were wells of horror and pity. A sound like beatific music to Roth’s ears, the sound of a soul at its utmost limit of suffering, escaped Logan’s lips. He held the small, gasping girl to his chest. Roth devoured his horror, trying to lock this memory into his mind, knowing he would need this on the long dark nights.

  But then Logan pulled back, turned so Roth couldn’t see his face, and looked into Jenine’s face.

  “I’m here, Jeni,” Logan said, holding the girl’s eyes with his own. “I’m not going to leave you.” The gentleness in his voice infuriated Roth. It was as if Roth didn’t matter anymore. With his soothing voice, Logan was pulling Jenine and himself out of this world of darkness, walling them off somewhere Roth couldn’t go.

  As Jenine stared into Logan’s eyes, Roth could see her relax—not into death, but from despair. “You really would have loved me, wouldn’t you?” she said.

  Roth knew he should have cut deeper, should have slashed her windpipe and not just that single artery. He struck Logan across the face, but his blow might have been the buzzing of a gnat for all it did. The big man didn’t even lose eye contact with the princess.

  “Jeni. Jeni,” he said quietly. “I already love you. I’ll be with you soon.”

  “You’re dying!” Roth shouted, not a pace away, but he might have been a summer breeze. Jenine’s knees trembled and Logan pulled her back into his embrace, closing his eyes and whispering in her ear as her life bled out against his chest.

  “My lord, they need you now,” the messenger said, more urgently.

  Logan didn’t even look at Roth as Jenine shuddered against his chest. He just kept whispering assurances. She sucked in three more labored breaths, and then sighed her life out in Logan’s arms, her eyes fluttering closed. Neph released the bonds holding her slowly and she crumpled to the floor.

  “No! No!” Roth yelled. She wasn’t even afraid. He’d done everything right and she wasn’t even afraid to die. Who wasn’t afraid to die? It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.

  He slapped Logan. Once and again. And again. And again. “You won’t die so easy, Logan Gyre,” Roth snarled. He turned to his men. The muscle in his jaw twitched. “Take him to the Maw and give him to the sodomites.”

  “My lord!” the messenger said, rushing into the room again. “You must—”

  Roth grabbed a handful of the messenger’s hair. He stabbed at the man’s face in a fury, wildly, again and again. He flung the man sideways and tried to cut his throat, but caught him above the ear instead. The knife turned and a fat strip of hairy scalp came off in Roth’s hand. The man wailed until Roth grabbed him again and cut his throat.

  Meanwhile, Neph had opened the hidden door out of the chamber. He lifted the princess’s body with magic and floated it before him.

  “Neph, what are you doing?”

  “The Godking wishes to have the heads of all the royal family displayed. Whatever you’re planning, I’d advise you to hurry.”

  He didn’t address Roth by his title. Everything was going wrong and Father would be here soon. Roth turned, panting, the gory strip of hair and flesh in his fist. He trembled with rage and the men holding Logan went as white as paste. “Bring me his head when they’re finished. But before you give him to the sodomites, cut his cock off and bring me his sack for a purse. I want him to bleed to death as they fuck him.”

  56

  The antechamber at the base of the north tower stank overwhelmingly of blood and feces released in death, the bitter tang of urine threaded through the stench. Kylar gagged as he opened the barred door.

  A quick glance told the story. The men had been trapped in the room, ambushed by a crossbowman. Kylar scowled. A crossbowman? In a room this small?

  Then he saw the narrow platform by the ceiling, plainly visible in the shadows that now welcomed Kylar’s eyes. From the way the bodies were scattered, it had just been the one man, shooting the royal guards and nobles like fish in a barrel.

  So this was what happened to the men who’d come to save their prince. From the streaks of blood going out the door, it looked like only one man had survived to drag himself away.

  Sickened, Kylar ran up the stairs. He found six dead Khalidorans at the entryway. The rest of the story was clear enough. Caught in bed with his wife—Logan’s clothes were scattered around the room—Logan had sprung up and fought. He’d killed six fully armed Khalidorans, but from the burn marks on the floor, he’d been hurt or disabled with magic.

 
Then, from the wide, sticky puddle of blood, it was obvious that Roth had either killed Logan slowly so that he bled copiously, or had killed both him and his wife. Neither body was in the room. The Khalidorans would want Logan’s body along with the rest of the royal family’s bodies so the whole kingdom could see they were dead, the line of succession wiped out.

  A torn nightgown lay on the floor. The princess, young and beautiful as she was, was probably in a room somewhere being raped until she died of it.

  Kylar tried to interpret it another way. His mind analyzed the scene, trying to ward off the shock of despair. Was it possible the princess had been killed and Logan was alive?

  But soldiers wouldn’t keep Logan alive and kill a princess whom they could rape. Logan was a warrior, a renowned swordsman, and the heir to the throne. The assassinations of the rest of the royal family had been carried out brutally but precisely, carefully. If the Khalidorans were going to make an exception and spare one life for any length of time, it wouldn’t be Logan’s.

  Grief hit Kylar like a physical blow. Logan was dead. His best friend was dead. Dead, and the blame could only be placed on Kylar.

  He could have stopped it. Kylar could have killed Durzo last night. Durzo’s back had been there, a target he couldn’t miss. Dorian had told him. Told him!

  What pain hadn’t he inflicted on Logan? He’d allowed the murder of Logan’s friend Aleine, concealed the truth about Serah’s and Aleine’s affair, got him sent to prison for murder, and forced him to break his engagement. Now Logan had been forced to marry a girl he didn’t know and had been murdered, his wife of less than an hour raped and killed.

  Sinking to the floor, Kylar wept. “Logan, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.” He reached a hand to steady himself, and found it in the puddle of blood. He looked at his bloody, bloody hand. Bloody as it had been bloodied in this very chamber, five years ago when he’d finished his first solo kill. Bloody as it had been bloody continually since he murdered his first innocent. This was where murder had brought him. It had brought him full circle, his murder of one innocent leading inexorably to the murder of more. In the last five years, he’d done exactly what he’d intended to do: he’d become more and more like Durzo Blint. He’d become a killer. He slept uneasily, so he slept light, so he was ever more dangerous. He was always on edge, and the blood that first covered his hands in this very room had never been washed clean. It had only been added to. It was no mistake that Logan’s blood was on his hands now, no coincidence.

 
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